By Whitney Pastorek
Updated September 18, 2009 at 03:45 PM EDT

When Neil Patrick Harris steps up as the host (and co-producer) of the Emmys Sunday night, he won’t be thinking like the Hollywood star and nominee that he is. No, he tells EW that his goal is to think like the viewer who has spent their whole life watching the Emmys from his or her couch at home. “I feel like it’s my job to honor the show, so I don’t feel like it’s a big showcase for me,” he says. “In fact, I feel like if I showcase myself too much, it’s a detriment to me. Because it’s the Emmys that you’re watching. You’re not watching Neil Patrick Harris at the Emmys. So I need to be amusing enough that you are won over, hopefully, and then you trust me to do whatever I want.”

The writing staff will be on site to pen jokes about the show as it goes along, and Harris plans to serve as a bit more of a roastmaster than a conventional host: “I’m not just gonna come out and do funny bits and leave,” he says. He just wants to keep the telecast fun, and a bit unexpected, though having a cocktail with him on stage at all times seemed a bit dangerous, since “You can’t slur your words on the teleprompter.” He also scrapped an extravagant Muppet-themed opening, but has recruited So You Think You Can Dance choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon to pull together some dance elements. Harris, a part-time illusionist, has considered incorporating magic tricks, but it feels risky, “because in live situations, when magic goes wrong, it’s very obvious.” (When asked why magic would go wrong if one has magical powers, Harris replied, “Next question.”)

Harris says the overall theme of the show is “to celebrate the year in television by honoring specific people within it. We’re not gonna do a three-hour show, only talking about the nominated shows,” he says, “because a lot has happened in TV, especially this year. You have the whole election, great SNL stuff, Jon and Kate, all the [Real] Housewives.” He wants people to “sit back and appreciate the year that was in TV, give out awards to people who deserve them, and stare at fancy dresses.”

Harris also has his third nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy for his role as the brilliantly caddish Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, which means there’s a wild card in all the planning: What if he wins? “If I don’t win, it’ll be fantastic,” he says. “I’ve got tons of jokes ready for that. If I do win, I think I have to go do the press gauntlet midshow, and then they’ll cut to me back there saying, ‘Our next two presenters are…’ I thought about calling [Malcolm in the Middle’s] Chris Masterson and seeing if he would sub in for me, as me, while I went to the gauntlet, and not even make a reference to the fact that he’s not me. Just have him keep going. Because I get told I was wonderful on Malcolm in the Middle almost as much as I get told I was wonderful on Doogie Howser.” In other words: Stay tuned.

For much more on Neil Patrick Harris, check out the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, in which we dissect his improbable cool: How did the teenager who played geeky Doogie Howser grow into a beloved sitcom/Broadway/awards-show-hosting star?